Keynote Speaker 1 – Emer Smyth

Keynote Speaker – Emer Smyth

January 9, 2024

School effects on broader adolescent development: evidence from Ireland

Research on school effects generally focuses on academic outcomes, mainly, how long young people stay in full-time education and how they perform in tests and examinations. Where research looks at other outcomes, it tends to show that schools make less of a difference to non-cognitive outcomes. However, non-cognitive outcomes have often included very different dimensions such as self-image, self-efficacy and effort, which may reflect very different processes. This keynote address attempts to extend the discussion to look at how schools may influence broader adolescent development, including wellbeing and health behaviours. It draws on research in the Irish context, where there is a long-standing tradition of pastoral care for students within schools. The paper looks at the extent to which levels of socio-emotional difficulties, depressive symptoms and healthy behaviours vary across individual secondary schools. It focuses in particular on whether the composition of the student population influences adolescent wellbeing, over and above the effects of individual social background. Given the continued prevalence of single-sex schooling in Ireland, it also examines whether the gender mix of students in a school can influence adolescent development. The paper seeks to highlight implications for future provision and leadership development at school level in order to enhance the broader development of young people.


Emer Smyth is a Research Professor at the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) in Ireland. Her main research interests centre on education, school to work transitions, gender and comparative methodology. She has conducted a number of studies on the effects of schooling contexts on student outcomes, including Do Schools Differ? She led the Post-Primary Longitudinal Study (PPLS), which followed a cohort of young people from the first year of secondary education onwards, and included a survey of, and interviews with, the young people’s parents. Educational inequality has been an important focus of her research, with work on an evaluation of the Youthreach programme, a review of the School Completion Programme and the evaluation of the Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS) programme. She was Principal Investigator of Growing Up in Ireland (GUI) in 2021-22 and has used GUI data to write reports and journal articles on adolescent wellbeing during the pandemic, the transition to primary and secondary school, arts and cultural participation among children and young people, educational expectations and decision-making, among other topics.